Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema – Monday, BBC Four, 9pm
It’s always a cause for celebration whenever Kermode returns with another series of essays examining the recurring themes, conventions and techniques of various film genres. The latest batch begins with British comedies, which can often reveal as much about our national character, obsessions and prejudices than any number of gritty social realist dramas. With characteristic clarity and a wide-ranging selection of case studies, Kermode analyses the ways in which these films tackle attitudes towards sex, race and class. Subjects under review include underdogs vs authority, and the timeless comic conceit of pompous self-delusion. Any programme that allows space for the likes of Carry On Cleo, Theatre of Blood and Chris Morris’ Four Lions is alright by me.
The Pembrokeshire Murders – Monday to Wednesday, STV, 9pm
Another year, another sombre true-crime drama on ITV. This one tells the story of how Welsh serial killer John Cooper (an insidious turn from Keith Allen) was eventually brought to justice several years after he committed a string of violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s. A murderer, rapist, paedophile, arsonist and thief, Cooper was, to say the least, a nasty piece of work. He also once appeared as a contestant on Bullseye, a bizarre detail that isn’t addressed until towards the end of episode two. Fair enough, it’s hardly the most important aspect of this case, but The Pembrokeshire Murders, while well-acted and quite sensitively handled, suffers from obvious padding. Its familiar formula undermines the tragic content.
Inside the Factory – Tuesday, BBC Two, 8pm
This week, Gregg Wallace visits a factory that churns out nearly two and half thousand tonnes of yoghurt every week. Meanwhile, Cherry Healey helps out with the UK’s biggest blackcurrant harvest, and Ruth Goodman traces the history of the electric milk float. This series is basically an extended version of those old behind-the-scenes at the factory films from Play School, but it passes the time amiably enough. Wallace, as always, is utterly amazed and delighted by every fact, figure and sight he beholds. Envy him, for he is a truly happy man. Also, as you may have noticed, I refuse to spell yoghurt without its traditional silent ‘h’. They can’t take that away from us, people.
24 Hours in A&E – Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm
This long-running series deserves every ounce of praise it’s received over the years. Observational documentaries of this nature can sometimes come across as dubious exercises in scare-mongering voyeurism, but 24 Hours in A&E is sensitive, humane and quietly profound. Alas, episode one of this new series wasn’t available in time for preview. However, I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t fall short of what we’ve come to expect. Cases this week include a 61-year-old woman who is knocked unconscious after falling off her mobility scooter, and a 71-year-old man who becomes agitated and confused following a bad fall at home. I know how bleak that all sounds, but it’s a warm show.
Are Women the Fitter Sex? – Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm
This wasn’t available either, but it sounds interesting. Dr Ronx, who you may recognise from previous C4 medical documentaries, wants to know why more men are dying from Covid-19 than women. They (Ronx is trans non-binary) discover that this medical gender bias has been noted, not just during the Covid pandemic, but also in relation to other viruses and illnesses such as SARS, cancer and HIV. Women would appear to be the stronger sex, but this natural advantage has come at a price. Ronx reveals that, due to a dangerous gender data gap, women are often fatally misdiagnosed. Touching upon their own personal experience within the healthcare system, Ronx asks what must be done to solve this issue.
The Truth About Getting Fit at Home – Wednesday, BBC One, 9pm
For reasons which need no explanation, gym visits haven’t been a major priority during the last ten months. But we still need our exercise, hence why living room workouts have become an everyday part of lockdown life. In this handy consumer guide, journalist and blogger Mehreen Baig spotlights some of the best and worst home fitness regimes and gizmos. She aims to find out just how much exercise we should be doing and what the best ways of keeping fit at home actually are. Baig also meets leading scientists and qualified fitness experts who are testing the theory that one minute of weekly exercise on each main muscle group could reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Pooch Perfect – Thursday, BBC One, 8pm
In episode two of this fluffy confection, Sheridan Smith and her trusty wet-nosed sidekick, Stanley, welcome four more humans as they compete for the title of Britain’s best professional dog groomer. I’ll be honest, I was instantly sold on the format when Smith announced in her intro that some of the nation’s “biggest and hairiest dogs” will be making an appearance. Now that’s what I call tantalising television. True to her word, Smith unleashes four large Alaskan Malamutes into the studio. They’re ready for a makeover, which naturally results in mounds of fur all over the floor. Pooch Perfect is entirely undemanding by design; something to enjoy passively during the first few miserable weeks of the year. It works.
FILM of THE WEEK
Whisky Galore! – Thursday, BBC Four, 10pm
Shown to coincide with Mark Kermode’s programme about British film comedies (see above), this Ealing classic is a sly piece of social satire in which the ration-starved residents of a remote Hebridean island are understandably thrilled when a cargo ship runs aground and deposits thousands of cases of whisky on their shoreline. They’re determined to keep it for themselves, much to the puritanical English chagrin of a local Home Guard commanding officer (Basil Radford on peak form). As Kermode observes in his essay, Whisky Galore! is the Rosetta Stone of British comedies in which plucky communities rise up against killjoy authoritarianism. An absolute delight. The perfect cast also includes Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson and James Robertson-Justice.
LAST WEEK’S TV
Amazing Grace – Saturday January 2, BBC Two
In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded a gospel album at an L.A. Baptist church. Director Sydney Pollack was hired to make an accompanying concert film, but it wasn’t released at the time due to technical difficulties. The footage languished in a vault for over 30 years, until a film producer ironed out the bugs. The results are extraordinary. You don’t have to be a believer to be enraptured by Franklin’s exultance in the glory of the Lord. The perspiring intensity, the sheer soul power of that astonishing voice as it soared towards the heavens, it knocked me off my secular feet. Franklin came across as shy and reticent whenever she wasn’t testifying. The music, the communion, transformed her. Reader, I cried.
A Perfect Planet – Sunday January 3, BBC One
David Attenborough’s latest series is a typically striking study of how the natural world survives due to “a unique balance of natural forces”. The sun gives us life. Weather systems provide fresh water. Ocean currents “circulate life’s essential nutrients”. This much we already know, but Attenborough’s everlasting M.O. is to dig deeper. He began with a fascinating voyage into one of the most vital components of planet Earth’s life support system: volcanos. We were introduced to the various creatures who thrive in harsh volcanic environments. There wasn’t a single human being to be seen, just images of the planet struggling to take care of itself while the disembodied voice of Attenborough hovered over proceedings like a benign deity.